A strong comeback
Twenty years after Gianni's murder, Versace has rediscovered its soul.
TWENTY years ago, stylist Gianni Versace was gunned down in Miami, the United States, plunging his fashion house into crisis.
Two decades on, it is one of the world's top global luxury brands thanks to his little sister, Donatella.
He had gone out for the morning papers and as Versace returned to his Miami beach mansion on July 15, 1997, he was shot dead by Andrew Cunanan, a prostitute known for his obsession with all things luxury.
The fashion world mourned deeply. The stylist to celebrities from Madonna to Elton John had been just 50 years old.
“He was a real artist, he had a pure creative vision on colours and materials,” said Stefania Saviolo, director of the luxury and fashion centre at Bocconi University in Milan, Italy.
The group he had created with his brother Santo in 1978 had been one of the hottest fashion brands in the world.
It fell to Versace's platinum blonde sister Donatella – to whom Gianni had entrusted the casual line Versus – to take over as artistic director.
But the brand struggled to recover from Versace's murder.
Donatella, who had worked for 14 years alongside Gianni, was severely affected by the loss of her brother and confessed to feeling “vulnerable”.
“You can't invent yourself as an artistic director overnight,” says Saviolo, particularly as Donatella took over “at a time when fashion was changing a lot, with many collections and great pressure on artistic directors”.
Donatella, instantly recognisable for her famous locks and perpetual tan, sank into a period of depression and cocaine use before detoxifying in 2005.
The year before, the brand had acquired a new CEO in Giancarlo Di Risio. The former Fendi boss refocused the Medusa on the luxury market, streamlining licensing and franchising deals and developing
the accessories range.
Amid rumours in the press of a fall-out between the family and Di Risio over planned cuts, he was replaced in 2009 by Gian Giacomo Ferraris, who moved over from the Jil Sander fashion house.
Ferraris wasted no time in launching an extensive reorganisation plan to return Versace to profitability, cutting 25% of its workforce and closing some boutiques before opening new ones as the books improved.
His intervention doubled the turnover and by 2011 the historic
brand had returned to profit after a gruelling three years of losses.
“The right balance was struck between Ferraris and Donatella, the dialogue between them was good and there was great respect for Donatella's creativity and vision,” Saviolo said.
The family, which had always refused to relinquish control to a luxury conglomerate like so many of its fellow Italian fashion houses, finally yielded a 20% stake in 2014 to private equity firm Blackstone.
The move, which Donatella said would allow Versace to “achieve its potential”, resulted in a cash injection into the luxury designer and boosted its presence in emerging markets.
The bet paid off despite a difficult global context, sales increased by some 17% in 2014 and in 2015.
The house said it was time to “move onto the next phase” and Ferraris was replaced in May 2016 by Jonathan Akeroyd, former CEO of Alexander McQueen.
Saviolo agrees “Versace has recovered its lost ‘red carpet DNA’ and its style is currently very daring, very strong.”–
The late Italian designer Gianni Versace (left) with his sister Donatella at a fashion show in 1997. Two decades after his death, Versace remains one of the world’s top global luxury brands.
Gianni pictured with top model Naomi Campbell during a Versace presentation.